4 out of 5
While I have been inexhaustibly enjoying Vagabond – even when I feel like its narrative has stumbled – I have admittedly been curious as to when / how its contemplations on a life dedicated to the sword would evolve. Like, it has changed along the way, but more in the sense that Musashi’s view has become wider and wider in scope – he is more aware of the world and his place in it; but the pursuit itself hasn’t necessarily changed.
It makes perfect sense that the battle with the 70 Yoshiokas would be the place to start asking more questions, especially with Musashi injured to the extent that he can no longer walk; volume 10 does not let us down in this regard. The reunion of Matahachi, Otsu, and Takuan – all of them working to care for Musashi – allows for these conversations to occur, from varying perspectives. Add into this the wisdom of sword-maker Koetsu – there’s a brilliant conversation debating the need for swords between him and Takuan – and the wrinkles of others still seeking Musashi out for battle, or, now, for teaching, and there’s a lot of food for thought, delivered in brilliantly to-the-point dialogue, and imaginative extrapolations of how Musashi visualizes his own struggles.
Matahachi’s character arc here is particularly good, as it remains true to his self-serving, but also finally turns a corner of sorts; this is growth that’s been hard-earned. The same is true for our check-ins with Kojiro, who finds himself being ushered off to Kyoto as – mirroring what’s being asked of Musashi – a teacher. We still will never know exactly what Kojiro is thinking, but we’ve also learned to “speak” his language, and read his expressions – again, hard-earned through our travels.
Where this formula fails a bit is with Inoue’s attempted expansions of Otsu’s character. On the one hand, I loved this – I loved getting to sit with her some more, and understand her thoughts and feelings. On their own, these moments are excellent, and work really well across the three tankobons collected here. However, we haven’t earned this as much in the overall Vagabond tale; it feels a little unusual at first when she gets the spotlight. And that’s a shame, and also something I think I may have expressed in an earlier review – that her part would be a lot stronger if we could’ve spent some more time with her along the way.
But I’d rather it be included too late than not at all, and overall, volume 10 is a heavy-hitter in terms of emotional and conceptual impact – a fitting followup to the gritty action of the 70-samurai fight.